U.S.-Israel Crisis: The Test

Against the Current, No. 146, May/June 2010

David Finkel, for the ATC Editors

THE CRISIS IN U.S.-Israeli relations, triggered by the Netanyahu government’s blatant disregard of the Obama administration’s concern over expanding settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, poses important tests both of political will and of theory.

To be clear about this, the test is not whether U.S. imperialism cares one bit about Palestinian human rights, democracy or self-determination. Its support of the blockade of Gaza is more than enough to show that Washington has no concerns on that score. Nor is there any apparent concern about the renewal of Israeli bombing of Gaza. The question is whether the administration has the political will to seriously confront Israeli behavior that severely damages the American strategy of “regional stability.”

The announcement of the Ramat Shlomo settlement expansion at the very moment when vice-president Biden was trying to launch “proximity talks” — following Israel’s contemptuous dismissal of Secretary of State Clinton’s appeal to halt home demolitions and settler takeovers in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem — had everyone in the Middle East from the Mediterranean to Afghanistan and Pakistan laughing out loud at American weakness. That’s a game-changer, and when General Petraeus openly says as much, the elites listen.

Hillary Clinton bleated that Israeli actions “undermine the peace process, the Palestine Authority and the two-state solution.” But that, of course, is exactly the purpose of what the Israeli government is doing. For reasons of “stability,” the U.S. policy is to prop up the wretched PA under Mahmoud Abbas; the Israeli strategy is to continually undermine him so that he lacks the authority even to negotiate for a truncated Palestinian ministate.

The test of will is whether the Obama administration’s genuine anger translates into sustained political pressure, backed up by (i) a U.S. veto of any Israeli unilateral attack on Iran, which would be ruinous for U.S. interests, and (ii) refusal to continue sheltering the Netanyahu government from international condemnation.

The test of theory is whether “the Lobby,” that toxic alliance of major Jewish organizations, Christian fundamentalists and the arms industry, really does trump “U.S. national interest” in the Middle East as some folks in the pro-Palestinian movement contend.

The perception that Zionist political clout drives U.S. policy is understandable, given the capacity of the Israel lobby to terrorize politicians, intimidate the media, and clothe every Israeli atrocity in the sacred gowns of “the right of self-defense of the state of the Jewish people.”

But the power of the Israel lobby ends where the client’s behavior collides with the core interests of the imperialist godfather — even if there’s been a lag time in the U.S. response to Israeli provocations.

Netanyahu expected that the political gangsters of AIPAC would be able to protect him in the U.S. arena, as they’ve so often done for rightwing Israeli governments. Our prediction is that it won’t work this time. The Obama administration intends to weaken if not cripple Netanyahu’s political standing in Israel, and most of the 78% of American Jews who voted for Obama aren’t going to desert their president over this tug-of-war.

None of this means that U.S. policy now supports freedom and justice for the Palestinian people. If that were the case, President Obama could cut through the crap by banning imports of Israeli settlement products. That won’t happen. The imperial goal isn’t to end the Israeli Occupation and the destruction of Palestine, but to keep these beneath the radar so that they aren’t “destabilizing.”

To advance the cause of justice in Palestine is up to the grassroots movement and particularly the growing Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) campaigns in the unions, the churches, university communities and elsewhere. This political moment is a tremendous opening for pro-Palestinian activism, and that’s the test for our movement.

ATC 146, May-June 2010